Lankford Criticizes Chinese Human Rights Abuses and Intellectual Property Theft

CLICK HERE to watch Lankford’s Q&A on YouTube.

 WASHINGTON, DC – Senator James Lankford (R-OK) today participated in a Senate Finance Committee hearing entitled, “US-China Relations: Improving US Competitiveness through Trade,” in which Lankford discussed how to address our tenuous trade relationship with China, given China’s ongoing human rights and religious liberty violations, oppression of Hong Kong, and US intellectual property theft.

Lankford remains outspoken about the need for the US to remain vigilant against China’s actions. Lankford is a commissioner on the bipartisan, bicameral Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC). Earlier today, Lankford responded to the US Commission on International Religious Freedom’s (USCIRF) annual report, which highlighted China’s abuses of Uyghurs and other religious liberty violations.

Last week, Lankford discussed protecting American research and development from China in a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing. In July Lankford questioned Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials on our dependence on imports from China after they prevented companies from shipping Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) at the height of the pandemic, which resulted in frontline medical workers not having the equipment they needed to treat American with coronavirus.

Witnesses at today’s hearing included Commissioner Michael Wessel of the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission; Dr. Aynne Kokas, Associate Professor Of Media Studies And Senior Faculty Fellow At Miller Center For Public Affairs at the University of Virginia; Clete Willems, who is a partner at Akin Gump Straus Hauer & Feld LLP; and David Baer, Chief Operating Officer And General Counsel at Element Electronics.


On American companies continuing to conduct business with China

Lankford: I have to tell you, in this day and age, I am amazed at the number of American companies that are still looking to China to do manufacturing after all of the intellectual property that they have stolen, after their immense human rights record and what they have done. And I’m particularly astounded with the number of American companies that will boycott states in the United States, or will make public statements about different things but have no problem doing business in China, who has one of the worst human rights records in the world, who limits free press, who takes away any right to vote for any individual of a meaningful way in China, who does surveillance laws on their people, who violated their word with Hong Kong, who said basically ‘Hong Kong won’t have some sort of autonomy until 2047’ and then, when it wasn’t convenient, they just broke their word on that as it consumes Hong Kong with their surveillance networks, who does forced abortions on individuals and limits the number of children that families can have, who limits free access to faith, free access to the free press, free access to assembly, all of those things are common in China, not to mention in the prison camps of the Uyghurs, and of the multitude of other issues that they have done as we’ve talked about economically today.

So there are serious issues with any company that’s doing business in China, it needs to be clear-eyed on the real risks of having a communist government be your partner for your business. It needs to be very clear for American companies that are going to speak ill of America, but seem to have no problem with engaging in China and the things that the Chinese government does there.

So, I would encourage companies to be able to be awake as they deal with interaction with China. Saying all that, there are a billion people there, there are a lot of companies that want to do business with a billion people, and are engaged in that process, so I want to be able to talk through some of the things that China is doing that we need to pay attention to.

On China’s isolation of the critical minerals market

Lankford: China’s been very strategic in trying to be able to isolate the critical minerals market and rare-Earth minerals. We have, quite frankly, allowed them by limiting production of critical minerals here in the United States and have just exported that work to China to be able to manage. Now, we are behind the eight ball in many ways, on trying to be able to catch up on those critical minerals that are needed for solar panels, for batteries, for steel production, for so many items in our cell phones, everything else. So, let me ask Mr. Willems in this, do you have ideas on the critical mineral side and things that we can continue to do to be able to catch up and to be able to level the playing field that we’ve abdicated to China.

Willems: I really do think that permitting and being able to pan these minerals in the United States has got to be a core part of that. I understand that some have environmental concerns about that, but we need to figure out a way that we can do it in an environmentally friendly way in the United States because otherwise, I think we are tying our hands behind our back. We can’t just subsidize our way out of this. I also would really look at partnerships with other countries, Australia is a country who has done a lot of work in this area, and I think we should look at leveraging institutions like the Development Finance Corporation to have joint partnerships and projects with Australia. So those are two ideas that I would put into the mix.

Wessel: The NDAA that Congress passed with a veto-override earlier this year included a new provision that would expand rare-Earth mineral utilization by DOD mines to magnets. Prior to that, the DOD was required to procure the final products from an allied-country essentially, but allowed Chinese rare-Earth minerals to be able to be the underlying basis. The new provisions should help get those for US-based mines back online, it’s going to take a little bit of time, but we need to do that with investments as well as broader provisions.

On China’s position with the World Trade Organization

Lankford: Mr. Willems, I want to follow-up on a WTO question with you as well. China talks about how they’re co-equal to the United States, and they’re another world super power, until it comes to WTO and suddenly they shrink back and say ‘we’re a developing, poor country and we need extra subsidies and we don’t need to pay our fair share in.’ What reforms need to be done to WTO because China has an out-sized influence in that, and a veto in these dialogues.

Willems: There are a lot of reforms that need to be done at the WTO… I will say to your point, the developing country status issue is right at the top of the list. If China claims that it is a co-equal partner in the global community with the United States, it needs to treat itself like one at the WTO. And we need to have objective criteria that says ‘given the significant size and power of their economy, they’ve got to take on every single commitment that the United States does.’